The government recently announced that the budget for its Future High Streets fund is to be substantially increased, from £675m to £1 billion. This means that a lot more local areas will be able to benefit from grants to help them redevelop their high streets, and there will almost certainly be knock-on effects for local businesses and the private rented sector.
Why are our high streets in trouble?
For hundreds of years, people bought most of the things they needed on their local high street. But in recent years that model has changed drastically. We purchase our food from supermarkets, our appliances and electronics from big retailers, and our clothes from sprawling out-of-town outlets. And of course many people now shop almost exclusively online, especially for things like books, music and clothes. An increased trend towards ‘fast fashion’, single-use items and disposable goods also means that specialist businesses who used to make a living fixing clothes, shoes or household items have had to shut up shop through lack of demand. The same goes for travel agents, insurance brokers and banks, all of which have been largely supplanted by online services.
Not only that, but a long-standing focus on developing major cities has seen many smaller towns starved of funding for basic infrastructure, with poor transport links and services or facilities that just aren’t fit for purpose anymore.
All this has left many of the UK’s high streets in a bad way, with empty shops and a lack of services for local people. There’s no point in trying to turn the clock back, but reinventing these high streets so that they serve the needs of modern communities is a vital part of making our towns and cities better places to live.
What is the Future High Streets Fund?
The Future High Streets Fund was originally proposed in 2018, and is essentially a big pot of money that local authorities can use to invest in their high streets and town centres. Each town or city can get up to £150,000 to help them improve their high streets, whether that’s through regeneration, improved transport links or other methods of reinvention.
Councils were invited to pitch for funding, and in July the government selected 50 successful bids that would receive grants from the Future High Streets Fund. Brilliant as that was, the relatively small number of shortlisted bids meant that a lot of really worthwhile projects missed out on funding. The huge increase in budget that’s recently been announced, however, means that another 50 towns and cities can see their plans become reality.
What impact might this have on the private rented sector?
One way some of the money from the Future High Streets Fund might be used is to convert empty shops into homes. While it’s important to try and stimulate physical retail shops on high streets, it’s a sad but inevitable fact that the world has moved on, and bricks-and-mortar shops just aren’t the best way for some businesses to work these days. Given that we’re also facing a chronic shortage of housing, it makes sense to convert some of these unused retail units into houses and flats, and this is obviously an opportunity for investment on the part of private landlords.
Apart from this, as areas regenerate, they may become more desirable places to live, meaning you might be able to achieve better rents for some properties. You may also find property values increase in areas that are benefiting from Future High Streets Fund investment.
If you’re a private landlord with plans to increase your portfolio, it might be worth looking at areas that are benefiting from Future High Streets funding when you’re investing in new rental properties.